Early Primaries Seen Boosting Jewish Voters

Community May Play Key Role in ‘08 Presidential Nomination Fight

By Jennifer Siegel

Published February 23, 2007, issue of February 23, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The rush of coastal states attempting to move their presidential primaries up to January or February of next year could provide Jewish primary voters with a much greater role than ever before in selecting a nominee.

Long an outsize presence among the activists and fundraisers who make up the lifeblood of national campaigns, Jewish Americans currently hold little clout as primary voters, due to their concentration in states that come late in the nominating season. That could change during the 2008 campaign, with as many as half of all states now potentially holding primaries on or before February 5, including New York, California, Florida and New Jersey, which have a combined Jewish population of more than 3.4 million, or roughly two-thirds of the total American Jewish community, according to the 2005 American Jewish Year Book.

“Not to take anything away from the bustling Jewish communities of Des Moines and Manchester — I’ve visited them both and love them dearly — but they’re not enormous players,” said Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz, who is supporting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. “It will be interesting to see if… there will be for the first time very serious” outreach to Jewish primary voters.

Although exit polling conducted for major news outlets during the 2006 election found that Jewish voters make up only 2% of the national electorate, the percentage is significantly higher in several states with concentrated Jewish populations. In New Jersey and Florida, where the general electorate is roughly 5% Jewish, the community’s representation could be as high as 10% in the Democratic primary, given not only Jews’ disproportionate affiliation with the party but also their higher than average propensity to vote, Democratic insiders said. The numbers could be even higher in New York, where Jews accounted for 10% of the general vote in 2006, and somewhat lower in California, which has proportionally fewer Jewish residents.

A number of states are jockeying for early primaries in an attempt to gain influence over the nomination process, which currently favors a handful of small states such as perennial trendsetters Iowa and New Hampshire. According to political observers, the mass shift to the start of the primary season is likely to produce one of the most expensive and frontloaded campaigns in America’s history.

“It’s sort of alarming if you think about it,” said David Wasserman, co-editor of Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is a political newsletter published by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “States are bunched more closely together than they have been ever before. There’s no time anymore for a candidate to recover from a loss in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

In previous years, when the nomination contests were spread out more evenly between March and June, larger states sometimes wielded critical influence. A victory in New York gave crucial momentum to 1980 Democratic contender Senator Edward Kennedy. More recently, Wasserman said, a compressed voting calendar has tended to create a “domino effect” of self-perpetuating wins, as when Senator John Kerry’s success in Iowa in 2004 created virtually insurmountable momentum for his campaign.

A 2008 calendar crowded with early contests is likely to favor the frontrunners — most notable among them Clinton, former first lady and current senator from New York — because of both their greater name recognition and their greater ability to raise the cash needed to pay for newly critical advertising in such expensive media markets as New York and Los Angeles.

In New York and New Jersey, earlier primaries are expected generally to boost candidates from the Northeast, including Clinton and GOP contenders such as former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Jewish activists are predicting increased opportunities — and challenges — as a result of the new schedule.

In New Jersey, where state officials have said they intend to move up primary day to February 5, John McCain supporter Ben Chouake welcomed a potential schedule change and predicted that activists like himself would respond with a new focus on mobilizing Jewish voters.

“If it actually makes a difference, people will turn around and say, ‘Whoa, you know, we better pay attention and we better do something, because we have an opportunity here to make a difference and to have an impact’,” said Chouake, who is a member of McCain’s finance committee and president of Norpac, a prominent pro-Israel political action committee.

But Donna Bojarsky, a public policy consultant in Los Angeles, called an earlier California primary a “double-edged sword” that would give more clout to the country’s most populous state — including Jewish activists— but also put greater demands on already taxed donors.

“Everybody realizes it; it’s happening already,” said Bojarsky, who advises actor Richard Dreyfuss and other Hollywood Democrats. “Anyplace there’s activist donors, there’s going to be a much greater emphasis on the need for them to contribute in order to make up for the sums of money that are required to compete in the California primary, not to mention Florida and New Jersey and everywhere else.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.